Newswise — MAYWOOD, IL - After tragedies such as the Florida school shootings and terrorist attacks, parents and caregivers often grapple with how to talk to their children. Loyola Medicine pediatrician Hannah Chow, MD, FAAP, offers answers to some frequently asked questions:
When's the right time to address a tragedy with my child?
Use your best judgment, based on your child's age and emotional maturity. "The older they are, the quicker you should tell them," Dr. Chow said. "You want to get in front of any misinformation, as they may have already heard the news from another source."
Tread cautiously with younger children. "They may not be aware of what's happening, but can pick up the emotions of those around them," Dr. Chow said. "I've always advised parents to address these issues in a timely manner and give them a brief modified version of what happened. Most importantly, remember to be truthful."
Should I let my child watch news coverage?
Watch the news first and use your best judgment. Set limits. "The news can be pretty intense for viewers under the age of 10," Dr. Chow said. "Don't leave the TV on for hours."
Use news coverage as a teaching moment. "Have a discussion while watching the news and help them digest the information afterward," Dr. Chow said. "The older they are, the more they will be able to comprehend and process."
How do you answer concerns about information they may have learned in school and from friends?
Most school-age children receive their initial information from friends and classmates. Ask them what they have heard, and correct any errors or misconceptions. "I would inform them that the information they may have received from school or classmates may not be entirely correct or may have missed important details," Dr. Chow said.
Assure your children you are available to answer any questions or concerns they may have.
How do I assure my child that their safety is a priority?
Children thrive in a safe, secure environment. "Let them know you are here for them and that you will do your best to protect them," Dr Chow said. "Also, remind them of how protected they have been in the past."
For children old enough to understand, create a safety plan. "Talk to your kids about safety, how to find safe places and how to locate the nearest exit wherever they are," Dr. Chow said. "Have a plan for how they can communicate with you in case a tragedy occurs."
What are some tips for dealing with an anxious child who may be scared?
"Your child may be uneasy or on edge from the news. Reassure them that bad things like this don't often happen," Dr. Chow said. "I would point out that 99 percent of what people worry about never happens."
Dr. Chow suggests children write down the good and happy things about their life and reference them frequently. But if your child is having a harder time than usual, seek professional help.
How do I assure my child that not all people are bad?
Talk about character and how to identify adults who can be trusted. "Point out that the majority of people can be trusted," Dr. Chow said. "Teachers, firefighters, police officers, medical professionals - they are there to help you in the event you need them." She adds, "I would let them know that only a small number of people want to hurt people and that people are usually kind to one another."
Dr. Chow is co-medical director of the Loyola Center for Health at North Riverside. She is board certified in pediatrics and a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
To learn more about Loyola Medicine or find a physician, visit loyolamedicine.org.